Rocket's hot start is over the top

Rocket's hot start is over the top
by Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
April 30, 2004

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
At this point in his life, Roger Clemens was supposed to be sitting in the stands of Minute Maid Park with all his kids named K. Not down on the mound K-ing a bunch of kids in opposing uniforms.

"I had six season tickets to sit up there and eat some popcorn," Clemens says.

The best pitcher in baseball thus far this season is supposed to be old, supposed to be tired, supposed to be hanging around the family – not starting Friday's game against Cincinnati with the chance to go 5-0 in April.

Clemens may be in his 40s, but his fastball is still in the 90s. His breaking ball still is more deceptive than Omarosa, and his stamina (he threw 112 pitches Saturday at Colorado) still makes a statement.

If he were any more youthful, he'd be Ryan on "The O.C."

Didn't they dole out rocking chairs and hero cheers to Clemens last fall? Wasn't he supposed to be retired instead of retiring batters? Wasn't this whole caught-up-in-the-excitement "unretirement" and January signing with hometown Houston supposed to be more about fun than fastballs?

But here's Clemens, 4-0 with 2.05 ERA. Batters are hitting just .195 against him and he has struck out 26. He's even gone 3-for-9 at the plate.

"(Hitting) is not what I'm here to do," Clemens said after getting the win and a two-RBI single against the Rockies.

Well, who knows what he is here to do anymore. How about push the traditionally average Astros to the playoffs? How about start in the All-Star game – conveniently held right there at Minute Maid? How about win the NL Cy Young?

OK, so it is way early. But if the Cy Young were like the Heisman Trophy – and thank heavens it's not – Houston's PR staff would be cranking out Rocket Roger promotional paraphernalia.

As good as Dontrelle Willis, Tom Glavine and Kerry Wood have been thus far, none has been better than Clemens.

Not bad for a guy who planned to be retired by now. After all, he is 41, and supposedly has accomplished all he needs to accomplish (six Cy Youngs, two World Series titles).

"The one thing we all have to understand is this man's 41 years old," Houston manager Jimy Williams told reporters Saturday. "And he doesn't act his age. He trains extremely hard, conditions himself. He's an outstanding competitor and he expects a lot from himself. That's why he's still pitching at age 41."

He isn't just pitching. Clemens is dominating.

Dating back to last September, Clemens has won his last 10 decisions. Since 2001 he is 54-18 (.750), the second-best winning percentage in the majors.

"It wasn't like he retired because he wasn't pitching good," Williams says.

At this point, who can remember why the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder announced his retirement last year. The guy went 17-9 with a 3.91 ERA.

As it turns out, he wasn't tired of pitching; he was just tired of pitching for New York. Clemens longed to head back to his native Texas to spend some overdue time with his family. He wanted to play catch with his children – Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody – all named with his favorite scoring abbreviation in mind.

So he let everyone pay homage to him with roars and cheers – not just at Yankee Stadium, but Fenway and Florida as well. But the retirement didn't last. Once Houston signed Clemens' buddy Andy Pettitte, momentum swung toward one more liftoff for The Rocket. Next thing you know, he was asking himself, "Why not?"

The Astros can thank their lucky stars he didn't come up with an answer.

At this rate you wonder: Did Houston get an ace for just a year, or is there still more? Clemens may turn 42 in August, but he still is in such good shape, and his arm still is so young, that you wonder if he can't pitch a few more seasons.

Who knows what is possible right now?

What is obvious is that Clemens is as sharp as ever. And with Houston winning he isn't afraid to state the ultimate goal. He isn't here just to have some fun. He isn't here to be a hero in April. He has his eyes on October.

"We want to get to the playoffs and win 11 games," he said.

So hold the popcorn. Pops isn't done yet.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Apr 30, 2004 10:28 am, EDT

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